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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH                       29

reputed to have been a poet, and to have married Chin Kuan, a very
well-known poet and a protege of Su Tungpo. Stories are told of how
she kept away the bridegroom from her chamber on the wedding
night until he had completed a couplet she had set for him to finish.
It was an extraordinarily difficult task and the poet bridegroom was
in despair, pacing up and down the court-yard frantically, until Su
Tungpo helped him out. Other stories tell of how the two lovers
exchanged the most fanciful kinds of poems with words arranged to
be read backward and forward and in a circle. In such stories Su
Tungpo was reported to have said to his sister: "If you were a man,
you certainly would have become more famous than myself." One
would like to believe these stories. Unfortunately there is no historic
basis for them. In the hundreds of letters and records in Su Tungpo's
works and those of his brother, with many mentions of Chin Kuan, I
have not been able to find the slightest indication that they were ever
related. Nor was it once mentioned in the dozens of memoirs written
by scholars of the period that Su Tungpo had a younger sister. More-
over, Chin Kuan never saw Tungpo until he was twenty-nine and
married, and Su's younger sister, if she was born at all, would have
been around forty when Chin Kuan met Su. The legends grew up
very much later and are usually connected with stories which made
good after-dinner conversation. But the existence of such popular
legends merely shows how the personality of Su Tungpo captured the
imagination of the Chinese people.

Tungpo, however, had a younger cousin-sister, who was his first love,
and for whom he showed very tender feelings till the end of his days.
She was his first cousin on the father's side. When his grandfather
died, Tungpo's father returned from his trip abroad, and so also did
his uncle with his family, to attend the funeral ceremony. The cousins
therefore had much chance of seeing and playing with one another.
According to Tungpo she was "good and intelligent and kind". Since
they both bore the same family name, marriage was out of the ques-
tion, as would not have been the case had she been a first cousin on the
mother's side—that is, had she borne a different family name. In time,
the cousin was married to one Liu Chungyuan. Later, in his travels,
Tungpo had occasion to visit her at Chinkiang at her home for three
months. During his stay he wrote two poems that are difficult to
explain except as love poems addressed to her.* No writer of the period
and no research student of Su Tungpo's life ever mentioned this special
relationship, because no one would. However, when he was living in
exile in his old age and heard of this cousin's death, he wrote to her
son that he felt as if "a knife had been thrust into his heart". After
his return from exile, when he was passing through Chinkiang, where

* See pages 143-5 •